How will the climate be impacted by future changes to the Arctic's sea ice and snow cover?

This is a key issue in a newly established research project that will examine climate change in the Arctic over the next 30 years. The study will show how the reduced amounts of sea ice and snow in the Arctic are interacting with climate change.

Extreme weather events such as cold snaps in the winter and heat waves in the summer have been linked to the reduction of sea ice and warming in the Arctic. The proportion of the observed extreme events that is due to the reduction of sea ice in the Arctic is still an unanswered question.

The GREENICE research project plans to find out more about the interplay between changes in climate and changes to the sea ice and snow cover.

“Even if there seems to be links, it is not clear how strong these are and what the underlying relationships are. We will now be examining how this development is affected by the reduction in the amount of sea ice and snow more closely,” says Torben Königk, climate researcher at SMHI's Rossby Centre.

Knowledge essential for adaptation strategies

As it is hard to state exactly how future changes will be, it is difficult for communities in the north to plan their adaptation to suit a changing climate. To facilitate planning, the project is to predict impending changes to the climate. The work includes clarifying the uncertainties in climate change in a better way for stakeholders and local communities.

“This could involve announcing probabilities concerning the amounts and distribution of precipitation. It may also be about how the probability of extreme events is changing in some areas in the future,” Torben Königk explains.

Model simulations provide answers

The project will be investigating climate change in the Arctic over the next 30 years and how the atmosphere responds to changes to Arctic sea ice and snow. SMHI researchers will be contributing to the GREENICE project with model sensitivity studies, where results from the same simulation with different climate models are compared, and with ensemble simulations, where a number of simulations with similar initial conditions are compared to produce the likely development. SMHI will use the global climate model EC-Earth and Rossby Centre's regional models RCA and RCAO.

The results from the project will benefit both the private and public sectors. There is interest from stakeholders in renewable (hydro and wind) and non-renewable energy, as well as from shipping who see the opportunities offered by an ice-free Arctic.

The project will start in spring 2014 and will run for three years. It is being headed by the University of Bergen in Norway, and includes participants from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland and Russia.